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What Does a 5-Year-Old Know About God?

What Does a 5-Year-Old Know About God? June 21, 2016

boy in the ocean
photo by Viktor Jakovlev

 

Westley is 5 years old and has questions about God.

The other night as he was drifting off to sleep, he said to his mother, “Mom, I used to think I knew what God is, but now I think I might be wrong.”

Oh? she said.

He said, “I used to think God is everything, everywhere, in everyone. But now I think God might be a person.”

No surprise there. In our society – never mind our churches – we often describe God as the Man Upstairs, as a judge who is always on the lookout for bad behavior, as an emotional being with clear likes and dislikes. A really big person.

What started Westley’s line of questioning was the prayer we use at the end of every service in my church, the Prayer for Protection by poet James Dillet Freeman.

The original prayer was written to accompany military personnel into World War 2. (Read the story.)

The light of God surrounds us,
The love of God enfolds us,
The power of God protects us,
The presence of God watches over us.
Wherever we are, God is.

You might already know it – the prayer has become famous. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin carried a copy of it with him to the moon on Apollo 11.

Westley’s class at church had been rehearsing so the kids could lead the prayer for the congregation one Sunday. We do it as a call and response:

The light of God surrounds us.
I am the light of God.

The power of God protects us.
I am the power of God.

And so on.

So Westley asked his mom, “The power of God protects us. Does that mean God is like a superhero? And the presence of God watches over us. Does that mean God has eyeballs? Does God have a body?”

Westley had been studying parts of the body in pre-school, so his mother asked, “Have you ever seen your heart?”

“No, but I know it keeps me alive,” he said.

“Well, God is like a heart. It’s in everyone.”

He thought about that as the conversation continued into the next day. He would play for a while, then ask more questions.

Finally he announced to his mother, “I get it.

“God is like my breath. It goes into me and keeps me alive, but it also flows out of me, so it’s around me, and around everyone and in everyone!

“I was right the first time,” he concluded. “God is everywhere.”

Of course, Westley doesn’t know the metaphor of breath has been used to describe the Presence throughout history.

The Hebrew word is ruah, meaning spirit or breath. The creation story in Genesis says God breathed life into the first human, so it is the animating force of all things. Jesus later compared God to the wind – the Greek is pneuma – and said God is spirit.

But even without translations, try saying the names we have given this Presence. They have to be pronounced with extended breath.

God
Allah
Yahweh
Elohim
Jehovah

I love that Westley has such a clear understanding of a Presence that can be everywhere at once and in all things. The transcendent God is a concept I have tried to teach adults for years.

Westley even incorporated it into his blessing for a meal. (Westley insists on leading all the prayers at home.) He wasn’t addressing a Supreme Being, just stating his gratitude.

I’m glad God is everywhere.
I’m glad God is in everything.
I’m glad God is love.
I’m glad God is in me.

It’s easy for adults to give lip service to the idea that God is everything, but then we have to remember it the next time there’s a mass shooting or terror attack. Or when we encounter a person who seems to exhibit anything but a divine essence.

Most of us love to think God is all the good things, but not the bad. We see God in sunsets and mountains, but maybe not in a parched desert or the vacant lot on the corner. We see God in a loving family, but not in war.

It’s a challenge to hold onto the idea of a transcendent God. Because if God is all there is – this force field of love, light and intelligence — then what else could human creatures be but divine?

Westley understands that, too. Everyone is divine. Everyone has God within.

So I leave you with Westley’s most recent question to challenge your spiritual thinking: “If God is in everyone, what makes Jesus so special?”

 

PS – Some people find the idea that God-is-everything too remote and cold. They prefer the idea of a personal God who watches and intervenes when asked, even one who rewards and punishes. What resonates with you about the nature of God? I’d love to know. Scroll down to the Comments or email me.

 

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